This essay examines the case of acting against better judgment—historically called “akrasia”—in two narratives of distempered selves: Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1767) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (1781). An ancient concept based in the conceptual frameworks of Aristotle and St. Augustine, “akrasia” ceases to be coherently parsed in Enlightenment metaphysics of the “self,” and perhaps for this reason it has also gone unexplored by the dominant critical paradigms of feelings, actions, and autonomy in eighteenth-century literary studies. This essay argues that Sterne’s and Rousseau’s narratives recuperate this ancient trope and in doing so self-consciously highlight the privilege of the genre of “narrative” in examining a “self,” insofar as it departs from the systematic clarity of Enlightenment philosophy and instead demands an interpretive process that is continually under revision.”


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pp. 61-77
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